Visions of Divine Excess: The Possession of Noviadi Angkasapura

Noviadi Angkasapura (2019) 'Untitled #7.19' mixed media on paper (16'' x 11.5'')

By JAMES D. CAMPBELL, September 2020

“This book is dedicated to the Ancient Ones, to the Lord of Abominations, Humwawa, whose face is a mass of entrails, whose breath is the stench of dung and the perfume of death, Dark Angel of all that is excreted and sours, Lord of Decay, Lord of the Future, who rides on a whispering south wind, to Pazuzu, Lord of Fevers and Plagues.”

— William S. Burroughs, Cities of the Red Night [1] 

“I am Legion, for we are many.”

— Gospel of Mark 5:1-19 [2]

“By inner experience I understand that which one usually calls mystical experience: the states of ecstasy, of rapture, at least of meditated emotion. But I am thinking less of confessional experience, to which one has had to adhere up to now, than of an experience laid bare, free of ties, even of an origin, of any confession whatever.”

— Georges Bataille, L’Expérience Intérieure [3] 

Noviadi Angkasapura (b. 1979, Jayapura, Irian Jaya, Indonesia) draws like a person possessed by ancient demons of the upper air. In fact, on his 24th birthday, he experienced an afflatus that had a significant impact on his life and drawing. He says that a supernatural entity visited him, leaving behind only two words written on a piece of paper: honest and patient. He understood the spirit was exhorting him to pursue a morally woke life, promising ecstasy and rapture. He was ‘christened’ or better, cleansed with the name of Ki Raden Sastro Inggil. His inner experience was immeasurably enhanced by the blessings the spirit bestowed that are seeded in his meticulously worked fields. Those remarkable drawings have a sacramental quality and an obsessive mien. 

Afflatus, vastation, supernatural visitation -- or divine invasion?  Was Angkasapura communing with an entity like that of Pazuzu, the celebrated demon of the ancient Mesopotamian religion? Pazuzu ruled the demons of the wind, and represented the southwestern wind, the bearer of storms and drought. Was it a Lam-like entity such as the one allegedly contacted by British occultist Aleister Crowley in 1918 as the result of magic ritual called the Amalantrah working? It allegedly created a portal in the dead spaces between the stars, through which Lam and other demonic entities were able to enter the regulated space of our physical universe. 

But the being that Angkasapura encountered was no Biblical or latter-day Occidental occult demon. It antedates the Biblical canon and arrives in this work as an alien from outside. The artist is Muslim, and his spirit guide hails from within that context. Notably, this supernatural entity radiated the opposite of malevolence. It appeared to him as the opener of the way inwards in what seemed a waking dream. Its abiding presence was to mark his practice auspiciously from that time forth. Indeed, this entity became the presiding deity not only over his drawing practice but his life as a whole. He tried to construe its corporeal form but it vanished as he sought to do so. 

It is interesting to note that after Islam migrated to the Indonesian archipelago, sundry aspects of Islamic mythology merged with Indonesian mythology. In some countries, the extant mythology was eclipsed by Islamic mythology, and was enriched with the dowry of that marriage in which all manner of spiritual beings, including devils, demons, jinns and angels abound. And belief in local spirits such as the forest guardian or the ghost of water still exists, often associated with the restless and tormented soul of deceased humans.

Since the encounter with the supernatural being, Angkasapura's creative power mensurably intensified. Its appearance was a watershed moment, opening the floodgates. When he draws, he dowses. He reaches deep into the unconscious and ignites atavisms there. The being that was never exorcised is his constant companion as he creates. It is a providential entity, a catalyst and a goad, a conscientious ghost guiding his hand towards the most singular and unforeseen of creative expressions. 

Noviadi Angkasapura (2020) 'Untitled #5.20' mixed media on paper (16'' x 11.5'')

His works have shamanic clarity. They fuse Eastern and Western belief contexts. They emerge from the fertile soil of mythology with all their faculties intact. They reference the Wayang Kulit, an Indonesian form of shadow puppetry, and emulate narratives conveyed by the dhalang, or puppeteer. Consider the subversive symmetry of many of the drawings, and the fractal unfurling of subject matter. A garden variety of minor demons appear from the wings. Mirrored trellises of serpents protect oracles and the cursive sinewy script seems like a proverbial litany of annunciations of the radicalised ecstatic spirit.

Angkasapura is himself a gifted puppet master of a draughtsman, and his characters are legion, drenched in liquid fire, they negotiate the perilous waters of the lifeworld. They are emissaries from the underworld or the far side of the midnight sun. The dhalang tells hypnotic stories the plots of which are drawn from episodes in the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. In ancient, pre-Hindu times, Wayang puppets were perhaps best understood as corporeal manifestations of deceased forebears. They were called back to earth during performances to communicate with their progeny. Their feral silhouettes were understood to be the migrating souls of the dead, and the dalang was a sort of oracular midwife, arbiter of matters of issue between the dead and the living.

Angkasapura’s possession speaks eloquently of the limit-experience as one in which the subject trembles on the very edge of the precipice that divides living and dead, sacred and profane. He lives and works on that precipice.

To Angkasapura the visitation of his Holy Guardian Angel was nothing less than transformative. The spirit instructed him the protocols of ethical living and balance and encouraged acts of spiritual self-transcendence, avowal, sacrifice.  As he surrenders to the work, the presence of this spirit is always with him when he draws, overseeing all, and so affirms his work as a process of achieving a moral balance in an amoral and sundered world.

If his drawings are also mediumistic in the sense that Angkasapura feels guided by a supernatural spiritual power, he channels ghosts with cunning and fluidity. You can listen in on his thinking in real time as your purely ambulatory optic, moves restlessly from quadrant to quadrant with feral stealth. Each drawing thus has a visceral sense of immediacy. When looking at an Angkasapura drawing, the eye refuses all overtures of stasis. 

Like other mediumistic and shamanic artists, his drawings are rooted in a primeval archive that is deeply personal and deeply felt, and expansive. Each drawing is a contemplative touchstone that touches on a transreferential dialectic between dead and living, human beings and the spirits who inhabit and guide them.

Angkasapura had an artistic upbringing, and his interests were clear from the start. He has said: 

“As I child I was obsessed with drawing. I loved creating endless patterns, imaginary figures, random numbers, capricious lines, ornate repetitions, and more. My notebooks were filled to the brim with dense compositions where the real and imaginary danced with each other.” [4]

Years later, when writing letters to his cousin Veronica, he invented a visual alphabet where each letter was replaced by a pictogram. This procedure was necessary to conceal the content from adults. The secret pictograms take on strange flourishes and follow strange paths. Angkasapura was brought up in a society that believes that plants and natural phenomena possess embodied soul. Everything he draws is invested with this belief. Every mark rests upon this fundament. 

Noviadi Angkasapura (2020) 'Untitled #6.20' mixed media on paper (16'' x 11.5'')

Angkasapura uses found paper, pen, pencils, and crayons and once at work, he is literally a man possessed (in two senses), working his remarkable drawings with otherworldly finesse like layered fever dreams. Angkasapura makes a drawing a day and this discipline reflects his devotion to his vision and its presiding deity.

Angkasapura is no idle copyist or purveyor of pleasant idylls. He is a fearless chameleon who draws upon the Wayang scrolls of Bali, the Javanese narrative scrolls and much else besides. But he is not the slavish amanuensis of his spirit guide. He is an inveterate journeyman with a cosmological bent.  For Angkasapura, drawing is akin to a votive offering to his inhering spirit. In this sense, it is of more significance to him than the finished drawing itself.

He says:

“Although the characters seem different or repeated there is one thing that can never be lost, there are always flowing lines and fibers and spines (lines and filamentous forms always form in my head like tangles). At higher levels when I start drawing I have only one story. It will be split into many stories at the beginning as I draw so there are then a lot of stories here, the images will be irregular, there are a lot of symbols, yes there are a lot of stories here, in the world. Everyone will see it. That's why I do not have titles every time I finish a picture. (I have a secret. I never project anything when drawing, except a little splash of flavour. This is the spirit’s meaning of “honest” and “patience”...they are the source and the destination end of my journey, which becomes the message, in each drawing).” [5]

The “one story” of which the artist speaks is grounded in a limit-experience. A limit experience definitively breaks the subject from itself. In this respect, looking at these solar tableaus with their consumptive fields of uterine fire and water reminds me of some of the writings of Georges Bataille, the famous French surrealist whose bold dilations on the visceral, the noumenal, the erotic, and the wholly Other-- the so-called mysterium tremendum--are legendary. 

For Bataille, as for this artist, inner experience is a nomadic testament of ecstasy. [6] He argues that experiencing the limit, as this artist does, is to confront Death and alterity head-on and no-holds-barred. Quintessential instances of limit experiences include abandonment, numinous fascination, physical and mental suffering, madness, and the ecstasis of poetry. 

Maurice Blanchot’s (a compatriot of Bataille) idea of limit experience is somehow implicit in the lines of flight and spinal integers of this artist’s drawings. “Every encounter,” Blanchot writes, “where the Other suddenly looms up and obliges thought to leave itself, just as it obliges the Self to come up against the lapse that constitutes it and from which it protects itself—is already marked, already fringed by the neutral.” [7] The amorphous Other in Angkasapura is precisely his inner demon, which has taken up residency inside his work.

For his part, Bataille is concerned with a limit experience in the sense that he is trying through his daily experience to reach that point of fulcrum on which one’s whole life can turn. Like Bataille, Angkasapurs is seeking to reach what lies at the extreme limit and beyond. 

In On Nietzsche, Bataille grasps the significance of the limit experience as an upheaval of body and soul. [8] He understands that it may "tear" the subject from itself. We arrive at a state that is completely "other" than itself, in the sense that we arrive at the subject's death, annihilation or dissociation. The subject must die in order for his spirit guide to live.

This process of tearing or de-subjectifying is a "limit-experience" as it tears the subject from itself so that it is no longer a subject is at the heart of Angkasapura’s project. The artist sacrifices himself on the altar of alterity, destroying his own subjectivity, and emerges on the other side of the abyss, unscathed.

Noviadi Angkasapura (2020) 'Untitled #3.20' mixed media on paper (11.5'' x 16'')

Each drawing of Angkasapura is a testament to this spiritual celebration which is also one of  wilful evisceration, dispersal,  désœuvrement.

These visionary works partake in equal measures of ecstasy and anguish, heaven and damnation, the apotraic and talismanic. That ecstatic experience is an encounter with an unassimilable, wholly Other, that must be worked through and incarnated as subject matter in works which pay fitting tribute to their origins and auguries alike.

The altered states of consciousness required to survive the encounter with the spirit are all suggested in this artist’s sinuous calligraphy and wealth of wayward images that affirm, above all, the authority of shamanic process in the making of meaning. WM

Endnotes

1. William S. Burroughs, Cities of the Red Night (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1981)

2. The Holy Bible: The Gospel according to Mark 5:1-19.

3. George Bataille, Inner Experience (New York: State University of New York Press, 1988).

4. Randall Morris, “Balance: New Drawings by Angkasapura” in Angkasapura (New York, Cavin-Morris Gallery, 2015).

5. Ibid.

6. George Bataille, Inner Experience (New York: State University of New York Press, 1988).

7. Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).

8. George Bataille, On Nietzsche (New York: State University of New York Press, 2015).

James D. Campbell


James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.
 

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